Two weekends ago, over the Thanksgiving weekend, we ventured back to the woods for a walk. Construction along the roads was still underway which blocked several trails, so our walk went a long way around.
The leaves have been falling by the hundreds! Less leaves on the branches opens the woods up to the sky and lets more direct sunlight through to the forest floor. Although the days are shorter, the light in the woods is less filtered.
Late fall colors in the woods surrounded everything with oranges, browns, and splashes of yellows and reds. Green holly bushes and English ivy contrast sharply against the fall backdrop of the woods.
This weekend experienced the first daytime temperatures in the 30s, wintry temperatures to be sure! But it was a fine day for a walk in the woods, dry and calm.
The fall has been at swift work in the woods. A thick carpet of leaves on the ground, and the overall color is a burnt orangey-brown. There are still a few trees with lovely color on the branches, and some with leaves looking ready to fall, while several trees are simply bare branches by now.
It is fun to see how the forest carpet changes its pattern as we walk. At this time of year, the evidence of the variety of trees around us is all over the ground. Lovely red and yellow maple leaves, oaks, beeches, large yellow leaves, poplars, even green leaves mix together to create a handsomely decorated forest floor.
The trail is hardly visible but for a line of trampled leaves among the newly curled and dropped leaves.
There are a few cautions for walkers and joggers. First, the leaves are dry and as they get trampled, layered, and smoothed they become slippery. Rocks and roots visible above the leaves may offer no-slip footing, however rocks and roots invisible under the leaves are not your friends and will bring you face to floor with the meaning of fall as they can easily cause walkers to slip, trip, and fall!
Just a few steps into this week’s walk, this walker was struck with the spirit of Fall. A nasty brown root sticking straight up in the middle of the trail was so well blended into the leaves that this walker tripped and fell hard onto the trail. Scraped hands, scrapes and bumps on the knees, a bruised lump on the elbow, it was startling, but luckily not serious. Another walker and dog were there to help assess the damage. Fall! It is the season.
After a few minutes of walking on, the injuries felt ok to continue, and the beauty of the woods was well worth it. Like a tapestry or a colorful quilt, the leaves overhead and all around were layered in rich beautiful colors. The light changed as it filtered through so many varied leaves so that colors were enhanced all around.
Much of the ground cover plants had disappeared so that there seemed to be more space within the woods, and only the colorful leaves around. There were a few green plants standing out, such as the spiky-leaved holly. Another shrub with twisting branches also held on to green leaves. A lovely young pine with long graceful needles stood verdant along the trail.
Up atop a hill, there were sounds of rustling. A rusty colored animal was moving through the trees to cross the trail. It looked a bit like a dog, but moved differently, and it’s rich dark orange coat was no dog’s coat. It was a fox! A fox with a beautiful fluffy coat and a very long beautifully bushy tail. It was large, yet moved swiftly without a sound! The fox stopped as it crossed the trail and looked down the trail just for a second, then stepped off the path and continued it’s way into the woods and continued to move swiftly among trees, with hardly any sound at all, until it disappeared over a small rise going in the opposite direction.
What a spectacular animal to see in these autumn woods!
The noise of a family of three deer shuffling and browsing through the leaves drew our attention just off to the right of the trail. The fox must have passed between them before crossing the trail. Suddenly a chipmunk with an acorn in its mouth scampered up a tree trunk and froze upside down to survey the scene. The chipmunk descended the tree and then returned up the trunk without the acorn.
High above, a woodpecker searched for snacks in a tall tree.
After starting again down the trail, suddenly, there was the fox on the trail way ahead loping down the trail away from us. It must have circled around and got back onto the trail ahead of us! Sneaky fox! The fox kept moving swiftly. Suddenly it stopped on the trail looking ahead. A soft noise from behind made the fox turn it’s head just enough to give a side-eyed glance to the trail behind. Then it continued along the trail and turned off into the woods moving quickly, with hardly any sound, and that large tail floating behind it.
Further down the trail, a buck was alone grazing in the leaves. He posed for a few photos, and calmly continued along. A chirruping male cardinal was a fluffy brown from head to tail.
The light fades quickly in the woods in autumn. The sun sets early, but the woods become quite dark even before sunset. The return walk went quickly, to return home for dinner and spend the evening musing about the fox, its stealthy soundless gait, its sharp featured face, and its fine fall coat.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of five fox species in North America. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (OhioDNR) online, the red fox typically eats mice, rats, rabbits, groundhogs, and other small mammals; also birds, fruits, and some grasses. They are solitary creatures during the fall and early winter.
It was a gorgeous autumn weekend, and after several weeks away from the woods, it was well appreciated weather for a visit to the woods.
With temperatures in the 70s, full sun, and a free afternoon, the conditions were perfect for seeing how the early fall was settling in.
The woods have cooled and dried, decorated with a crunchy new layer of dried leaves. The colors are muted browns and oranges, with spots of yellow and red. It’s lovely to see the forest floor change throughout the fall. As leaf colors change, so the light changes.
The woods were still. In the silence small noises were so clear. The fallen leaves were so dry that every shuffle and rustle was loud and crisp. Voices from clearings beyond the trees echoed throughout the woods. “Hey, Dad! Over here!” echoed off the drying leaves.
There was a slight smell of autumn, the dry leafy, almost smoky smell.
At points on the walk, one uphill section, there were tiny tapping pops coming from the dry leaves all around. Were there small seeds or falling items hitting the leaves? It was similar to the sound of first rain drops, but it was a sunny day, and there didn’t seem to be any rain falling.
Later, the sound again. Total stillness and the sounds of taps and pops on the dry leaves. Finally a few tiny drops of water appeared on nearby leaves. It was rain, but we didn’t feel it. This strange phenomenon happened in a few places along the trail!
Dead wood had decayed throughout the summer. In an old rotted stump small round balls of fungus bubbled quietly the same colors as the trunk and soil. Other wood had rotted and filled with leaves. A downed trunk had small piles of shavings on top and underneath it. Something must have been drilling. A standing dead tree had been serving as a dinner buffet for woodpeckers.
Occasionally birds called, cawed, or flitted above and out of sight. At the entrance to the woods, a red cardinal seemed curious to know who was coming down the trail and eyed these visitors for a minute or two. His feathers were not the bright red of late winter, but more subdued and fitting with the early fall. A few woodpeckers went about knocking on branches looking for treats, hardly standing still.
Squirrels seemed pleased with the abundance of acorns on the ground, and their searching in the leaves seemed to result in an upright seat and a snack.
Many chipmunks were seen in the woods. With squeaks and the rustling of dry leaves, chipmunks were energetically running along the networks of logs, hiding within the hollows of trunks and logs, gathering food and visiting each other.
At a bend in the creek, there was a nice place to sit where birds were passing from branches overhead from one side of the bank to the other. Across the creek there was a flat gravely shore protected by a steep bank, which meant no access for humans or dogs. In the small pools among the pebbles, robins bathed and dunked their heads, ruffled their feathers. A blue jay joined the scene for bathing and drinking. The water was perfectly clear. Other birds touched down on the gravely shore line to bathe and drink before flying back into the leafy branches above. A common flicker stopped down for a few moments, dunking its head quickly and keeping a watch before flying back to the trees.
Chipmunks gathered food
and ran along the networks of logs
Common flicker ( Colaptes auratus) – According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American birds, the common flicker is a large brownish woodpecker. Eastern birds have a red patch on the nape and males have a black “mustache”. They are the only woodpeckers in North America that commonly feed on the ground.
Late Summer has been unbelievably cool. During the past week (first week of September) the temperature barely reached the 80s. With various happenings to attend at the end of summer, this weekend was the first available for a walk in a few weeks. New construction on the access roads to the park blocked some of the pedestrian walkways but people found a way in to enjoy the weekend trails.
The temperature was perfect for walking. Gentle cool air and sun. There were still signs of the heavy thunderstorms. There were still traces of cascading water on a steep bank of soil facing the trail. Here and there small mushrooms burst out from under the carpet of leaves or peeped out from between tree roots.
Trees have been forming seeds. A birch tree next to a small meadow had beechnuts just starting to open among the leaves. Ripening seed pods looked like strips of brown crinkled paper. Oak leaves and new acorns had fallen to the trail. Leaves were still green, but looking worn with browned edges or transformed by insect damage. Here and there just a few leaves have changed from green into various colors, and late cooling summer had scattered just a handful of green, red or yellow leaves onto the ground and graced the green undergrowth with golden yellow flowers. Bold red berries hung in clusters.
Trees that had fallen during the summer have been cut and removed from the trail. The tangles of brown branches and brown dead leaves look strikingly dark against a backdrop of living green leaves. One large tangle of dead branches and leaves had become the framework for beautiful silky spiderwebs. The webs created a spectacular show of shimmering geometric patterns as sunlight and playful breezes bounced off the delicate webs.
Chipmunks sprinted along logs and shuffled through the dead leaves, stopping to nibble on snacks and eye the trail.
Bursts of rain a week back carved deep channels into the trail, and formed neatly terraced patterns of debris where the torrents of water found paths of least resistance.
Muddy patches were stamped with foot and paw prints. The sandy trail along the creek was damp, and there were smoothed areas where either the creek had overflowed onto the trail or large amounts of water had washed across the trail into the creek. The creek water was brown and swiftly flowing.
New trees had split and splintered, brought down possibly due to rain or unstable soil.
After the downpours and through the mugginess industrious spiders attended to their webs.
A few weedy ground covers were decorated with tiny flowers.
New green items have appeared on the trees and bushes: nuts, acorns, green balloons, and seed pods. A beech tree had formed brown spiky beechnuts, and an oak had already dropped several green acorns along the path. On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found. The mimosa tree over the creek had lost its pink pompoms and was all green with copious bunches of wide green seed pods maturing among the leaf fronds.
The vines along the creek had traded clusters of tiny white flowers for small green berries transitioning into purple and blue. The berries identify the vine as porcelain-berry.
A few stray yellow and red leaves had dropped onto the trail.
On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is described by the Virginia Native Plant Society online as an invasive exotic vine which can overgrow and block sunlight from other species. The berries on the porcelain berry vine stick upwards unlike native grape species on which the grape berries droop downward.
This week’s walk found the woods very damp and waterlogged after heavy rains. The summer has produced a series of surprise thunderstorms, with torrential rain, thunder and lightening. After the storms, the air outside may be cool and breezy, but within the woods the air was completely still, very humid and moldy smelling. These conditions were the delight of all kinds of mushrooms which sprouted and conjured themselves from beneath the leaf litter. This visitor had never seen so many mushrooms. The mushrooms stood tall and short, alone, in clusters, in pairs or trios, with caps of gleaming white, or yellow, red, orange, or purple. So many mushrooms, some appeared to be tiny lanterns colorfully lighting the woods while others arrived as guests for a mid-summer party.
The mushroom tops varied from circular caps to flat or rounded umbrellas. While some were new and round, others had ragged edges or holes chewed in. One set had pointy edges giving them the appearance of sunflowers. One type of mushroom had a puffy white patterned cap like a toasted marshmallow. One small orange capped mushroom appeared to have tiny white stars stamped into its cap. A set of round mushrooms with holes in their center looked like rounded jars nestled into the forest floor. Bright colonies of tiny orange disks crowded inside an old hollowed tree trunk. Along the trail there were also mushrooms which had turned green with mold and appeared to be overtaken by another fungus as the mushroom cap collapsed. Other larger fungus thrived on the damp conditions; a large leafy looking fungus was growing around the base of a tree. The yellow shelves of fungus found a few weeks ago had grown and matured. Tree trunks had populations of fungus growing on them, white scaley fungus growing on the bark, or a black slimy blob fungus clinging to a fallen trunk.
No mushrooms were touched, many varieties are poisonous and best left undisturbed.
The conditions so delightful to the mushroom are not the most comfortable for people, so a relatively short walk was enough to admire this summer fungus party.
Summer tempts us to enjoy life outdoors and to spend more time among nature, to marvel at the engineering of a spider web. It takes a rainy day at last to catch up on tasks indoors.
Mid-July is a beautiful summery time in the woods. There is a sound of fullness in the woods. The green canopy leaves sway and rustle against each other, and the floor of dead leaves sound out loudly when birds or chipmunks move among them. Even an old dead leaf on a branch scratched against a tree trunk to make an unusual whisper. Cicadas buzzed and murmured unseen.
The summer has settled into the forest. Fat leaves and food growing, varieties of insects and mushrooms, moss and ripening berries; the chipmunks and squirrels find odd things to eat – perhaps seeds or roots or insects. There are many chipmunks making their homes in the woods this year and actively snacking and running around. There are interesting things among the tree roots, including shelves of yellow fungus.
On this sunny day, the trail temperature changed dramatically between the cool green shaded sections where cool air drifted down the shaded slopes or drafted upwards from the creek, to the hot sunny sections of trail where it felt like walking through thick slabs of hot air. But cross back into a shaded section and the trail air became immediately cool again as incredibly cool air flowed around. From a simple trail walk it’s clearly demonstrated how well trees can provide protection from the sun and instantly cool the air.
The cool breeziness offered near-perfect conditions for a spider’s web. And many spider webs were delicately bouncing on the breeze waiting to trap insects passing through on the currents of air.
In fact it appeared to be the age of spiders. Spider webs were woven between plants, tree trunks, branches and leaves, with neatly spaced rings and segments of silky thread glinting in the sun; the master or mistress of the web always holding the central position. One web spanned an 8 foot space with one end anchored on gently swaying leaves and the other other end fixed to the trunk of a tree. The web orb itself was fairly small, but somehow the tiny spider was able to span this wide open space and spin a web in the center of the divide.
A pair of blue swallow-tailed birds took to the air currents and dove and swooped over the creek before disappearing underneath a bridge.
Bees and giant wasp-like insects were visiting some flowering vines thriving in full sun along the creek. The vines had small clusters of tiny white flowers and rounded green berries.
In this context of summer green, sun, and shadow, a thin stalk with multiple miniscule purple flowers caught the eye. At a different point on the trail a sole purple flower stood alone among green leafy ground covers.
The only other ground plants with flowers were a few clusters of very tiny clover-leafed plants with small yellow flowers. A set of plants with dried cones were an unusual sight.
A woodpecker flew and climbed high on a tree trunk, then disappeared into the leafy canopy.
Several small blue and grey birds sang and watched the trail and flitted from branch to branch.
Water is essential during these hotter months, and an energy snack too. It’s common to feel drowsier than normal and make a misstep or two. Even regular walkers must take care to watch their footing as rainstorms can wash out trails and expose rocks and roots which will easily catch on a shoe.
After several weeks away, it was time to visit the woods with a good long walk. Happy to be back on the trails, but not prepared for…summer!
Yes, summer has arrived, bringing a combination of high temperatures and humidity which gave this walk the first challenging conditions of the year. After a few weeks of relatively mild weather, a heat index of nearly 100 degrees was exhausting! Snacks and supplies to rehydrate and reenergize, while always welcome on walks, are more necessary now during the summer.
A few minutes into the walk, a low buzzing at first sounded like distant landscaping equipment, but it droned in and out. Cicadas! The sound of summer, and a sign to bring extra water. Robins accompanied us along the trail as usual. A couple of pieces of robin’s egg were visible near the trail.
The squirrels and chipmunks were busy running around collecting food and darting about in the corners of the woods. They scampered along logs and up tree trunks and dove through the leaves.
A portly chipmunk was too fast to photograph, but a couple of smaller chipmunks skillfully froze in place long enough for a few photos.
Along the trail, vines continue to stretch high and into the trail and grow around each other. New tree saplings were establishing themselves on the ground.
Other signs of summer were evident during the walk. The woods appeared in need of rain. Soil was dry and cracked on the trail, and some of the stream beds and gullies were dry.
Mayapplies were yellowed and flopped over.
At the end of thorny stalks raspberries were ripening into bright oranges and reds.
Large white Mushrooms had emerged from the soil with papery white scrolls hanging over pink frills underneath; and mosses and lichens spread over the ground and logs.
The wintergreen plants seemed to be past their flowering stage for this year. They are quite common on the hillside where we spotted the first flower buds a few weeks ago. Now their long flower stalks have round green berries on the ends.
There were signs of insect damage and webbing in several places. A tree trunk appeared damaged where patches of bark had been chewed at different heights on the tree. Other leaves showed tent like webbing and leaf damage.
At a bend in the trail descending toward the creek, along a dry streambed there was a fluttering sound as a black, orange and white bird preened its feathers. The bird perched in a bush on a low branch for a minute or two, fanning and fluttering his disheveled feathers. Across the streambed a female cardinal had also stopped to preen her feathers, and a bright red male alighted on her branch for just a moment before disappearing back into the green canopy.
A grey catbird hopped along over debris near the creek, posing for a moment to watch a visitor take its photo.
The main creek was actually quite clear and fish were lolling and basking in the sun or cruising in the shadows of the rocks. It was nice to sit and rest by the creek but there wasn’t much air moving. The creek and shade didn’t offer a cool enough location to retreat from the heat.
Next to the creek a mimosa tree was in bloom with white and pink brushy flowers. The tree fanned out over the creek with a slight flowery fragrance.
The heat began to take its toll on the trip home. Frequent breaks and a slower pace help prevent overheating. Unfortunately, the water in the creeks and streams are completely off-limits due to human pollution. Summer visitors must carry water and refreshments.
According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences online, mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is native to Asia, and considered an invasive species due to its ability to grow in various soil types, to regenerate when cut back, and to reduce sunlight and nutrient availability for other species.
Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online, Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.
In early June the woods were leafy, dark, and green! Back after a couple of weeks away in May, we walked the trails looking for what’s new. There was so much growth from the ground cover plants which had emerged just a few weeks prior. It seemed that these plants had set in for the summer, on cruise control to grow and deepen in color as the temperatures rise. The trail was dappled with sunlight.
Looking for anything new or unusual, we spotted many chipmunks, nearly half a dozen in just 30 minutes. They squeak and sprint through rustling leaves or along a log, then freeze and disappear from detection until they squeak and sprint again. Numerous, and apparently new, holes show that subterranean excavations have been underway in the woods. Could these plump chipmunks be any happier?
A large grey bird of prey lifted itself up from the ground and flew into the canopy. It may have been waiting for a chipmunk snack.
Scraggly thin vine tendrils reached and stretch into the air and out into the trail, just searching for something to grab onto.
There was a nice display of starry-shaped plants growing on a mossy embankment. A single sighting of a small, precious plant just a few inches high and two flower buds bowing towards the ground was a reassuring sign that wild flowers are still working their magic in the woods in this age of vines.
On the way home, we spotted a deer munching on the new leaves and saplings, casually turning its neck to observe the visitors. Slowly it walked on and then sprang into the luscious leaves.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
Chimaphila maculata – striped wintergreen. According to Maryland Native Plant Society, striped wintergreen is a low-growing herbaceous plant with creamy-veined (or “striped”) forest-green leaves, frequently with flowers in pairs.
May is a busy month in the woods. People too are suddenly busy in May. It’s more of a challenge to take regular walks and organize photos when the month is filled with travel, weddings, friends visiting. These May Chronicles entries are a look back at the walks throughout the month.
First week of May. Rain! A day with light rain can be a wonderful day to walk in the woods, after the springtime leafy canopy has grown in. The tree branches and leaves naturally reach to catch sun rays and fill open spaces at any height, providing incredible coverage over the ground below. The leaves and flower petals are positioned to catch just about every drop of sun, and catch every drop of rain as well. The gentle sounds of rain falling on so many leaves is soft and lovely to hear, instead of the noise of a crowded city. The light is low, not great for taking photos, but fine for a walk. The foliage surfaces are shiny and some bead with raindrops. The sounds of the birds are slightly amplified by all those rainy surfaces, or does it just seem that way?
There had been heavy rains the day before our walk, the trail was waterlogged, and run off had carved channels near the trails. After heavy rains the rivers and creeks turn brown, from erosion of soil from the urban yards and woods. There are a few muddy patches and small streams to cross as we go.
Ground covers have been growing under these conditions of rain, warmer weather, and filtered light.
A male and lady cardinal fly across the trail and were visible singing on a low branch. The ever present robin bobbed along over the wet leaves keeping an eye on us. A chipmunk is spotted running start and stop through the leaves too quickly and too well hidden for a photo.
Two groups of deer drifted through the darkness of the woods chewing mouthfuls of fresh green leaves. They were unhurried, but their eyes watched the trail as they chewed on leaves from fallen branches.
The Conopholis sentry have turned a rusty red color and shrunk back a bit, however still maintaining their posts! The leafy carpet takes on richer hues in this rainy weather, and ferns and moss are glowing green with all the moisture.
A final discovery before returning home, dozens of tiny orange spiders in a nursery web just next to the trail. The light was fading and the only way to get this cozy scene into focus was to use the flash, which created a black background.